Race Weekend Central

Talking NASCAR TV: Is Michael Waltrip’s Sponsor “Pimping” Out of Hand?

Hello, race fans. Welcome to Talking NASCAR TV, where race broadcasts and what goes into them is the name of the game. I don’t have a smokin’ hot wife (or a smokin’ hot girlfriend, for that matter) and I don’t have any “Little Es,” so racing is my primary focus.

This past weekend, the Sprint Cup Series took their final weekend off for the season. However, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any action to go around. In fact, there was plenty. The Nationwide and Camping World Truck series had a standalone race weekend at Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon, Tenn., two summer shootouts broadcast by SPEED and ESPN, respectively.

However, before we start, The Charlotte Observer’s Jim Utter is reporting that ESPN is planning a test of their NASCAR NonStop setup. It will take place during the broadcast of the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend. The format itself will premiere two weeks later. Now that we’re done with the news, onto the critique.

Lucas Deep Clean 200

Friday night (July 22) saw the Camping World Truck Series return to Nashville for their second visit of the year. The usual crew was all in place for the show.

The Setup started off with the normal look back at the previous event, the Coca-Cola 200 presented by Hy-Vee at Iowa Speedway.

Starting off the features for the week was a look at Ricky Carmichael’s new motocross iPad game, Ricky Carmichael’s Motocross Matchup. Essentially, Carmichael showed off the game to some of SPEED’s on-air personalities. Krista Voda got her turn, as did Ray Dunlap. The game looks pretty fun. As long as the makers get the technical stuff worked out, it could be nice. That was NASCAR 2011: The Game’s issue. For those of you wondering about that game’s struggles, Eutechnyx just released a big patch on Friday that took nearly four months to put together. It fixed about 30 different problems with the game.

The other two features were more fitting of a race in Nashville. One was based around the all-important trophy that winners receive (a Gibson Les Paul guitar with a special paint scheme). SPEED took cameras to the Gibson factory to show how the Les Paul is put together. The feature would be completely out of place if it were not about the trophy for the race, but I found it interesting. Outside of the trophy context, however, it would need to be on another channel. Perhaps GAC (Great American Country?).

The third feature was a celebration of Mike Curb’s 500th start in NASCAR as a owner. Over the past 30 years, Curb has owned a full-time team in the Cup Series (remember, Richard Petty drove for Curb in 1984 and 1985, winning his final race in a Curb Racing Pontiac). He also serves as a co-owner of Baker-Curb Racing. This celebration included a number of drivers joining Curb in a music studio along with a few selected drivers: Austin Dillon and Johnny Sauter, amongst others.

Outside of the features, SPEED gave viewers six pre-race interviews and a good amount of pre-race analysis.

During the event, SPEED brought back the split-screen replay, where a replay of an event could be shown in one box while the live coverage continued in a second box. I was very happy to see that. I have been arguing in favor of such a setup on broadcasts for years. FOX was the only one of the three partners to ever use it in Sprint Cup, and that was two years ago. It appeared a couple of laps into the race when SPEED wanted to show a replay of what happened to Justin Marks at the start. SPEED, please keep this up in the future.

However, there were a couple of technical issues with the broadcast. For example, there was no sound when SPEED cut to Matt Crafton’s in-truck camera early on in the race. It was a little weird, to be honest. Maybe a little old school, but it shouldn’t happen today. Thankfully, SPEED and BSI got that fixed later on.

After Max Papis had his spectacular engine explosion, Michael Waltrip made a series of references to Papis’s sponsor GEICO that all but had nothing to do with what was going on. The aforementioned Jim Utter ranted about it on Twitter during the race. I figured that this would be a good discussion point in the comments area. Do you think Waltrip goes too far with his silly mentions? Or, is it all in good fun? Post your opinion below.

It’s a little annoying at times, but it appears to be completely within Waltrip’s character. And yes, he’s been like this for years, long before he ever got a TV presence. I saw a clip on YouTube from a Busch race at Bristol from either 1997 or 1998 where he snuck into the background of an interview with a real funny look on his face and silently plugged his sponsor, Band-Aid during someone’s else interview.

Now that he’s constantly on television, Waltrip can do it to his heart’s content. It’s debatable whether SPEED would ever call him into the cable television equivalent of the “Big Red Truck” and give him the what for since, whether you agree or not, he’s a sizable draw for the network.

His constant pimping of the Aaron’s Lucky Dog is more of a problem since he’s a compensated spokesperson for the rent-to-own chain (and has been since 2000). Perhaps SPEED is banking on the idea that everyone watching knows that he’s been in Aaron’s pocket for the last 11 years.

The race ended up pretty quick, which allowed for plenty of extra post-race coverage. However, SPEED chose not to give fans as much as they could. SPEED aired seven post-race interviews (six drivers, plus the winning crew chief) and checked the unofficial results and points standings before leaving the air 15 minutes early to get to an unscheduled repeat of The 10.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: 2011 Lucas Deep Clean 200 at Nashville

While I like The 10 (I‘ve already written about the show this season in The Critic‘s Annex), why are you going to cut away from post-race coverage early to show it? It’s not right. Also, SPEED was still close enough to the end of the race that there were still people around they could get on-air for interviews. Weak.

Aside from the post-race coverage that left me wanting more, SPEED’s telecast from Nashville was fine. There was plenty of coverage throughout the field and there were no issues with any of the on-air personalities. However, something that SPEED should look into covering, maybe during the Setup in the future is the series’ plummeting recent truck count. Although a full field is entered for Friday night’s AAA Insurance 200, they’ve had fields as small as 31 recently.

Federated Auto Parts 300

Saturday night brought the Nationwide Series back out for their second visit of the year to Nashville Superspeedway. A relatively small crowd (estimated at 18,000) showed up for the race. If you were to determine the excitement of the race based on the SportsCenter highlight package, then all the excitement happened before the event started with the quirky invocation from Joe Nelms. However, there was far more to ESPN’s broadcast than Nelms going on about his wife, his kids and Roush-Yates engines.

Since it was a standalone weekend, the Pit Studio took the weekend off. Instead, Jamie Little hosted NASCAR Countdown from the grandstand. Interesting choice, but one that provided a problem or two. Little didn’t do anything wrong, but she was blocked out by some guy’s butt while she was speaking at one point. I guess that’s just a necessary hazard that comes with shooting live TV like that.

The main feature of the week featured Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wanting to learn how to do a backflip on a motorcycle. Interesting. Should be noted that there is almost no other sport that would even let a participant do this ever, let alone in the middle of the season. It would be even crazier for that participant to allow ESPN to film it. But, Stenhouse was cool with it. Enter Brian Deegan and the Metal Mulisha.

Stenhouse proved to be a very fast learner, accomplishing the feat after only three attempts into a foam pit. Deegan turned out to be a very good teacher in that regard. It was an interesting look into what amounts to be another world, definitely in line with NASCAR’s attempt to try to court younger fans. Also, a random note: Wasn’t Deegan (or fellow Mulisha member Mike Metzger, who is currently rehabbing serious injuries) looking to get into NASCAR a couple of years ago? I guess that’s not going well.

Saturday also continued ESPN’s hyping of Travis Pastrana’s Nationwide Series debut, scheduled for Saturday night in the Kroger 200. They have packaged the race and all of his X Games events together under the umbrella name of the “Pastranathon.” What does that mean for us NASCAR fans? Expect an unusually high amount of Pastrana coverage, even if it is unwarranted. If he drops out of the race somehow, don’t be surprised if the driver doesn’t show up somewhere to help out with ESPN’s coverage Saturday night.

The race telecast itself was relatively quick due to the low amount of cautions (three). Especially early on in the race, there was a high amount of coverage centered on the front couple of drivers. Even though Brad Keselowski led the first 58 laps of the race, Carl Edwards was never all that far away. It was never really a battle until lap 58, but the two drivers kept in close enough contact that ESPN felt the need to stay close even though nothing was happening.

Unless you are a fan of Edwards or Keselowski, you were left wanting for coverage of your driver. On the other hand, ESPN did provide a decent amount of reporting on Reed Sorenson’s electrical issues, including an interview with Sorenson’s right tire changer after the battery change was made. That might be a first for ESPN. Even though pit crews are front and center a lot of times, the crews operate on an almost anonymous basis.

Of course, ESPN has their Over-the-Wall Reporter (usually Mark Armstrong, who appears to be just about the only one of them that ever says anything on-air), but he mainly just wears a camera on his helmet and ESPN uses the footage from his camera somewhere in the broadcast. Nothing new. They’ve been doing that since at least 1989. Interviewing a tire changer is actually interesting to me during a race, and I would not be opposed to that happening again (that is, if the crew chiefs don’t put the kibosh to it, which is always possible).

After what happened at New Hampshire during the Nationwide race, I will now give weekly coverage to whether there were any instances of bias on family lines. I did not detect any issues along those lines during Saturday’s broadcast, thankfully. Regardless, it’s still a weekly check for the rest of the season.

Since the race ended quite early, there was plenty of time for post-race coverage. To that degree, ESPN obliged with 11 post-race interviews, some post-race analysis from the broadcast booth and a check of the points standings before leaving five minutes early to get to SportsCenter. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if ESPN could have gotten an interview with Keselowski after the race. However, since he finished 12th, he was under no obligation to speak to the media (officially, only the top three have to; anyone beyond that is gravy).

ESPN did redeem themselves with some coverage of drivers further down the order towards the end of the race when there wasn’t all that much going on up front.

That’s all for this week, folks. Next weekend is a big week for racing. The Sprint Cup Series returns from their final off-week of the season to race at The Brickyard, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race also marks the return of ESPN to Sprint Cup coverage and Allen Bestwick’s first Cup race in the booth since 2004. This cartoon character is most definitely pumped up about that move.

We’ll see how it ends up working. The Nationwide and Camping World Truck series will be a few miles away at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in nearby Clermont for what might be the final NASCAR weekend at the short track.


Thursday, July 28
Time Telecast Network
8:00 – 10:00 p.m. ARCA Racing Series Ansell Protective Gloves 200 SPEED*

Friday, July 29
Time Telecast Network
4:00 – 5:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Hungary Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^
8:00 – 9:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Hungary Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
1:00 – 2:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1 SPEED
3:00 – 4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 2 SPEED
4:30 – 5:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
7:00 – 7:30 p.m. NCWTS Setup SPEED
7:30 – 10:00 p.m. Camping World Truck Series AAA Insurance 200 SPEED
10:00 – 10:30 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, July 30
Time Telecast Network
5:00 – 6:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Hungary Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com
8:00 – 9:30 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Hungary Qualifying SPEED
10:00 – 11:00 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour ESPN2
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Practice ESPN2
2:00 – 4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN2
3:00 – 6:00 p.m. Continental Tire Challenge: New Jersey SPEED*
4:30 – 5:30 p.m. Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
7:00 – 7:30 p.m. SPEED Center SPEED
7:00 – 7:30 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN
7:30 – 10:00 p.m. Nationwide Series Kroger 200 ESPN

Sunday, July 31
Time Telecast Network
7:30 – 10:00 a.m. Formula 1 Grand Prix of Hungary SPEED
9:00 – 10:00 a.m. NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. NASCAR Countdown ESPN
1:00 – 5:00 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Brickyard 400 ESPN
7:00 – 8:00 p.m. SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
9:00 – 10:00 p.m. Wind Tunnel SPEED

*- Tape Delayed
^- Available via free streaming online

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series race telecasts here at Frontstretch next Tuesday. The ARCA race will be covered in the Aug. 4 edition of The Critic’s Annex, available in our email Newsletter. This week’s Annex will contain critiques of both Versus’s telecast of the Edmonton Indy and FOX’s delayed broadcast of the Grand Prix of Germany. It’ll be an open-wheeled delight.

If you have a gripe with me or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below or contact me through the email address provided on the website in my bio. Also, if you would like to follow me via Twitter, you can go to my Twitter page here. And if you would like to contact any of the TV partners personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:


As always, if you choose to contact the network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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